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Ireland re-elects president, set to dump blasphemy law

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Ireland re-elected its president for a second term, official results showed on Saturday, despite a surge in support for the runner-up after controversial comments targeted at the Irish Traveller ethnic minority.

Michael D. Higgins, a left-wing former arts minister who enjoyed the support of three of the four largest political parties, easily won re-election to the largely ceremonial role with 56 percent of the vote, the electoral commission said.

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Media coverage had focused on the surge in support for independent businessman Peter Casey, who came second with 23 percent of the vote, up from 2 percent in an opinion poll just days earlier.

Commentators linked the surge to his comments on Irish Travellers, one of the most marginalized groups in society, who he said did not pay their fair share of taxes and generally camped on other people’s land.

Traveller advocacy group Pavee Point said the surge should send out a warning to the Irish political system, one of the few in Europe that has not experienced a surge in far-right political parties in recent years.

“It is important that we also do not gloss over the fact that one candidate sought to exploit prejudice against a small and marginalized community,” the group said in a statement welcoming Higgins’ re-election.

Casey on Saturday told journalists he did not believe the comments were responsible for the surge in support and said they could not be racist as he did not regard Travellers as a different race.

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Irish voters also looked set to remove the offense of blasphemy from the constitution in a referendum held alongside the election. Exit polls and early results indicated the measure had been backed by more than two-thirds of voters.

It is currently illegal to publish or speak of anything “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion”.

The exit polls are the latest sign of the waning influence of the Catholic religion in Ireland, five months after voters overwhelmingly backed a bid to overturn a ban on abortion.

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An attempt to charge British broadcaster Stephen Fry last year for referring to god as “capricious, mean-minded (and) stupid” was dropped last year. One police source told the Irish Independent the case was abandoned because they failed to find “a substantial number of outraged people” as required by law.


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Confederate battle flag banned — Marine Corps declares it a ‘threat to our core values’

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The United States Marine Corps banned the public display of the Confederate battle flag on Friday.

"Depictions of the Confederate battle flag are unauthorized in public and work spaces aboard an installation," the Marine Corps wrote in guidance to the troops.

The ban applies to bumper stickers, clothing and flags among other items.

"The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps," the Marines explained.

"Our history as a nation, and events like the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, highlight the divisiveness the use of the Confederate battle flag has had on our society," the continued. "The presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline."

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BUSTED: Police arrest Anthony Brennan III on assault charges after viral video of attack on teenage protesters

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On Friday, The Washington Post reported that authorities have arrested Anthony B. Brennan III, a man suspected of being the attacker caught on camera in Maryland attacking teenagers putting up posters protesting the death of George Floyd, and charged him with second-degree assault.

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Trump is ‘a soulless man with a broken mind’: George Conway calls out his wife’s boss in scathing op-ed

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George Conway, the prominent Republican attorney married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, blasted his wife's boss in a new Washington Post op-ed published online on Friday evening.

"Until three brief months ago, President Trump never faced a serious crisis, at least one not of his own making. But now he has faced two, and is failing two, in short order: the covid-19 pandemic, with its concomitant economic devastation; and now social unrest, and rioting, stemming from the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody," Conway wrote. "Lacking in humanity, Trump has had no idea how to handle either one."

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